Five children and one teacher were killed and 42 children were injured on Thursday after the school bus they were riding in collided with a truck truck north of Jerusalem. The bus had been taking the 5- and 6-year-olds from their school in the Shuafat refugee camp, near Jerusalem, on a field day to a park near Ramallah.
More than 50 ambulances and several rescue helicopters were called to the scene of the accident, near the West Bank settlement of Adam. The injured passengers, including three very seriously injured children, were admitted to several hospitals in Israel and in Ramallah. Later, however, Israel's Magen David Adom ambulance service and the Palestinian Red Crescent agreed that most of the Ramallah patients should also be admitted to Israeli hospitals.
Two buses carrying some 150 children set out on the trip Thursday morning, but due to the stormy weather the school ordered the buses to turn around. Near Adam, one of the buses hit a truck with Israeli license plates, overturned and went up in flames.
The initial investigation indicates that either the truck or the bus skidded into the other vehicle's lane, but it isn't yet clear which one. Though the accident took place in an Israeli-controlled section of the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian police are conducting the probe jointly. The truck driver, who suffered a head injury and is in the hospital, told Haaretz he doesn't remember anything.
As word of the accident spread, worried parents began descending on the school. The fact that the injured children were sent to several different hospitals in four different cities (Jerusalem, Ramallah, Petah Tikva and Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv ), compounded by communication problems among the various Israeli and Palestinian agencies involved and the fact that the bodies of several of the children were disfigured nearly beyond recognition by the crash and the fire all meant that it took many parents hours to discover what had become of their children. In an unusual move aimed at calming the situation, Israel permitted Palestinian police officers onto the site to retore order.
The police asked parents for DNA samples to aid in identifying the bodies of the victims.
"When we heard, we went to Ramallah," said Nabil Salameh, whose nephew Milad Salameh was on the overturned bus. "But we didn't find him. Then I went to Hadassah Mount Scopus and then to Hadassah Ein Karem, but I still have no answer."
At Hadassah Mount Scopus, a doctor walked into the waiting room at 2 P.M. and said, "We have a child with green eyes. Does anyone know a child with green eyes?" Numerous faces fell, and one desperate mother burst into tears.
"My daughter, Marwa Amira, I can't find her anywhere," she said. "I looked in Ramallah, I looked everywhere. Tell me where she is! If she's dead, I want to know. Just tell me!"
Parents on Thursday blamed the school's principal, Alia Rajabi, for loading the buses with far beyond the number of children allowed by law. They also claimed Magen David Adom took 40 minutes to reach the site of the accident, which they said occurred at 8:30 A.M. But MDA officials said it received a call only at 9:05 A.M. and the first ambulances arrived within a few minutes.
The Palestinian Authority has declared a three-day mourning period.
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